Two professors from Utah State University were awarded the 2004 Governor’s Medal in Science and Technology. Utah State University professors Noelle E. Cockett and Wynn R. Walker received the awards at a luncheon Thursday, Sept. 9, at the governor’s mansion.
Former Utah State biology faculty member Rex Spendlove, founder of the Logan company HyClone, also received an award.
“Noelle Cockett and Wynn Walker represent our most outstanding faculty at Utah State University,” said Brent Miller, vice president for research at Utah State. “Both have significantly advanced their research fields, contributed to administrative functions and provided constant support to our students.”
The Governor’s Medal award was initiated in 1987 to recognize those who make career achievements or provide distinguished service that benefited the state of Utah in the areas of science and technology. Five categories are included: academia, science education, industry, government and a special category.
“Rex’s years of teaching and research at Utah State, as well as his successful entrepreneurial career in building a great company, exemplify the potential of university-based technology,” said Miller. “The results of Dr. Spendlove’s research have been noteworthy, driving not only continued advancement in science, but also substantial economic development in Utah and throughout the world.”
Cockett, dean of the College of Agriculture and professor of animal, dairy and veterinary sciences, has established an internationally recognized research program in sheep genomics. Her program focuses on the identification of genetic markers and genes associated with economically important traits using genomic resources.
“Noelle has been instrumental in the adoption of genomic technology for agricultural use at Utah State,” said Robert W. Sidwell, Utah State trustee professor of virology and director of Utah State’s Institute for Antiviral Research.
Walker, associate dean in the College of Engineering and professor of biological and irrigation engineering, is an international figure in the field of irrigation engineering and water management. Throughout his years of service to Utah State he has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level and has mentored more than 30 master’s students and more than 20 doctoral students. His former students now hold significant positions in governments around the world, many making water resources and policy management decisions that effect millions of people on five continents.
“He continues to develop innovative ways to educate irrigation engineers around the world,” said Mac McKee, director of Utah State’s Utah Water Research Lab. “I doubt very much that any other Utah educator has had such a positive and widespread influence on the management of the world’s scare water resources, all to the benefit of some of the most needy people on the planet.”
Cockett’s work at Utah State has centered on sheep genetics, including research on a recessive genetic defect in sheep known as Spider Lamb Syndrome. The syndrome, which causes skeletal abnormalities and premature death is common in several breeds of sheep. Cockett identified the genetic marker for the condition, providing an effective tool for eliminating the syndrome from sheep populations. This has had a significant economic impact in the state of Utah and the world, particularly for sheep producers. Countries that previously wouldn’t accept U.S. sheep now import them upon proof that they don’t carry the mutation.
Cockett’s other research interest centers around the callipyge gene, a genetic mutation that increases the muscle mass of a sheep’s hind quarters. Cockett and her team have focused on understanding how the mutation occurs and have noted the benefits of the mutation. Cockett discovered that only offspring who received the callipyge mutation from their farther and the normal form of the gene from their mother show the callipyge trait. Sheep affected by callipyge have a 30 percent increase in meat and an associated 8 percent decrease in fat.
“Noelle is a recognized leader in sheep genome research and her work on the callipyge gene in sheep has been of great national and international importance to producers and scientists in the field,” said Ken White, professor of animal, dairy and veterinary sciences.
Throughout her career, Cockett has developed significant collaborations beginning at Utah State and extending throughout the world. As an active member of the scientific and agricultural community, Cockett’s research has received numerous recognitions and she has been active in several professional organizations. Cockett now serves as co-editor for “Animal Genetics,” an international journal directed toward genomics research in domestic species.
“Dr. Cockett has been a pioneer in the state, region and nation as she has effectively led the sheep genome project,” said H. Paul Rasmussen, associate dean for the College of Agriculture and director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and associate vice president for research. “Her science is impeccable, her desire for expanding the frontiers of biotechnology insatiable and her leadership superior. The state of Utah is fortunate to have a scientist of Dr. Cockett’s caliber, and Utah State faculty continue to push the envelope of new scientific frontiers because of scientists like Dr. Noelle Cockett.”
She has served as the National Animal Genome Research Program United States coordinator for sheep genome mapping since 1993. In that role she promotes research directed toward the development of the ovine genome map. Cockett has also established an undergraduate research apprentice program in her laboratory at Utah State to recruit minorities and females into agriculture.
“Noelle has established an outstanding research program in sheep genomics,” said Sidwell. “Her work has significant implications not only to the sheep industry, but also to basic genetics research.”
Cockett, who received her master’s and doctorate in animal breeding and genetics from Oregon State University, has served as dean of the College of Agriculture since 2002. She earned her bachelor’s in animal science from Montana State University. Cockett has also served as interim dean for the School of Graduate Studies and as the associate provost for the university. Before coming to Utah State, Cockett worked at the United States Department of Agriculture Research Facility in Nebraska.
“I am honored to receive this award because it recognizes the work I have done, not only from the scientific angle, but from a technology commercialization angle,” said Cockett. “Knowing that my work benefits agriculture in Utah and around the world is important to me. By receiving this award I join a prestigious group of researchers in the state as well as at Utah State University.”
During his career, Walker served for many years as head of Utah State’s biological and irrigation engineering department, where his leadership fostered the growth of an internationally recognized program in irrigation engineering. The program continues to provide technical assistance in support of agricultural and economic development.
“The most fascinating thing about water management in Utah is the great humor that is often attached to rather serious problems,” said Walker. “One of the most critical of these problems is achieving an equitable distribution of water among users. This is often described gently by saying that it is better to be at the head of a ditch with a long-handled shovel than at the end with a good water right. I think we have finally, after more than 150 years, been able the disprove this old adage.”
In Utah, Walker has worked with the Sevier River Water Users Association to automate the river and implement real-time water right allocations. His efforts have assisted the river commissioners in day-to-day regulation of the river and helped users receive the appropriate amount of water daily based on their rights. This has improved the economic climate of the Sevier River Basin, which spans six Utah counties, by helping irrigators improve crop yield in a cost-effective manner. It has also helped with the area’s water conservation and has become an important component of the state’s current conservation initiative.
“Dr. Wynn R. Walker has set an example of water conservation throughout Utah, the United States and the world,” said H. Scott Hinton, dean of the College of Engineering at Utah State.
Walker has also developed international short courses that provide irrigation training, and he is a regular instructor at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Management course. He revised and updated the Border Irrigation and Furrow Irrigation manuals for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. These manuals will be combined into a single Surface Irrigation manual that will provide information and design procedures for hundreds of NRCS offices throughout the nation and internationally.
“In the water community, Dr. Walker is well known as an excellent ‘go-to’ man for help and advice and is esteemed and respected by his peers,” said Clyde Bunker, president of the Consolidated Sevier Bridge Reservoir Company.
Walker has a masters’s in civil engineering and a doctorate in agricultural engineering from Colorado State University. He earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from Utah State. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, where he sits on several committees and task groups, including the On Farm Irrigation Committee and the Soil and Crop Hydraulic properties task committee.
While at Utah State Spendlove was instrumental in developing the virology research program, where he began researching fetal bovine serum. He left the university in 1975 to found HyClone to further his research in this area. The company has since evolved into a world leader of manufacturing cell culture media, sera and bio process container systems. In 1996, Spendlove sold his interests in the company to focus his attention on other research pursuits.
For more information about Utah State visit, www.usu.edu